Plain English summary

The REACT project evaluated the usefulness and value for money of an intervention to promote physical activity in retired people aged 65 and over who had low levels of physical activity and who were already showing some signs of limited mobility.


We adapted the successful LIFE intervention programme from the USA, which showed to be effective in improving mobility and physical functioning. Our previous development work, which involved extensive consultation with a network of service users and service providers as well as charities, researchers and experts in physical activity promotion, selected the LIFE programme as the best bet for use in the UK to promote physical activity with a wide range of older people living in different areas and with different cultural backgrounds. We adapted the LIFE intervention for use in leisure and community centres in three locations during low cost daytime hours. The programme took full account of the needs of UK older adults, particularly those in more deprived/less well-off communities.

REACT was a 12-month physical activity programme for inactive people aged 65 and over designed to help them get started with activity, become fitter, and improve their health and well-being. As well as improving heart fitness, strength and balance, it emphasised enjoyment of activities, provided opportunities for rewarding social contact, and helped people develop skills for long term changes in their lifestyle.


A novel element was the "ambassadors" programme that provided the opportunity for people who took part to get involved as programme recruiters, supporters, or in helping other participants to get involved in activities in the local community.

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We conducted a pilot study to confirm that the programme could be delivered as planned and that the trial procedures worked well. This proves that our recruitment methods, ability obtain follow-up measurements, and delivery of the intervention worked well, though we did make some edits to the recruitment materials to emphasise more strongly who we were aiming to recruit.


Next, the study carried on to become a full-scale evaluation study. In total this involved 777 people. Those who signed up were told that they would either receive our REACT intervention programme or receive a less intensive intervention (including information, vouchers for taster sessions at local centres and attendance at two sessions with a healthy living education group). The allocation to these groups was done randomly by a computer programme.


All participants completed tests at the start of the study and then again at 6 months, 12 months and 24 months. This included a set of three tests of physical functioning (a balance test, a sit-to-stand test and a walking speed test), wearing a small device that assesses their physical activity for a week, and some questionnaires to measure health status and mental health. Participants were invited to contribute to individual interviews, where we got feedback about whether the proposed intervention and evaluation methods were acceptable and how they might be improved.


The work was conducted by a team of researchers and practitioners who are experienced in promoting physical activity in older people and in conducting this type of research.


The REACT study is important because physical fitness makes a huge difference to older people's mobility and quality of life. Before this study, we did not have any interventions targeting functional ability in older people that have been shown to be effective and to provide good value for money.

For the scientific summary, click here